The Power of Yoga to Achieve Deep Relaxation


The picture above shows the heart rate monitor output from a recent yoga class. I decided to log the class to see how my heart rate varied during the 90 minute class. The results are clear to see! Working hard in some postures then resting between postures sees the heart rate rise and fall. The most striking thing though is the rapid drop in heart rate seen at the end of the class as the body surrenders completely into relaxation or “savasana”

Savasana or corpse pose is one of the most important poses of the class. It involves laying on the mat with arms and legs angled away from the trunk. The body has worked physically hard during the class, stretching, balancing, twisting. Internal organs are squeezed and massaged, muscles are contracted and stretched. The mind has to focus to balance on one leg or use nearly every muscle to maintain balance in a strong inversion like handstand. It is therefore very important to allow the body to come back to a new and hopefully improved level of stasis where organs, the lymphatic and endocrine systems (including the digestive and immune functions) are functioning at an improved level of efficiency. Your body will continue to adapt as you sleep later that night and in the days that follow, ultimately becoming stronger and better conditioned, inside and out.

In savasana we are aiming for a watchful deep rest as opposed to sleep. We look internally over the body noticing how it’s feeling, observing the rise and fall of chest during the natural rhythm of the breath. Noticing any areas that have not released and relaxed and using focus as we exhale to bring those areas to relaxation.

Don’t underestimate the art of relaxation. Savasana can be the most difficult pose of your practice. As a new student to yoga 18 years ago, I struggled to relax laying on a dusty drafty floor of a local hall surrounded by complete strangers! It took time but what a gift it is once you have trained your body to master this pose. As the picture above shows it is possible to reach a deep state of relaxation very quickly after a yoga class with the heart rate dropping to levels only normally seen during deep sleep.

A good yoga class sets up the conditions for a truly deep relaxation which is restorative and refreshing for the body and mind.

Many participants report sleeping very well after a class and this has been my experience as well and one of the reasons I love yoga so much.

If you think you would like to try yoga as a pathway to better sleep and relaxation (as well as all the other wonderful benefits that yoga practice brings) then please get in touch to book your first class. Email: [email protected]

Tight Hamstrings? Can’t touch your toes?

This week in Pilates we got technical! 

The result ? Clients saw huge improvements in their Sit and Reach Test scores of between 4.5 cm and 24cm. So how did we do it and what on earth is a Sit and Reach test? 

Sit and Reach Flexibility Test

The sit and reach test is a common measure of flexibility, measuring the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles. Tightness in these areas is implicated in lumbar lordosis ( excessive curve in low back) and often lower back pain. This test was first described by Wells and Dillon (1952) and is now widely used as a general test of flexibility with several variations of the test now in use. 

Often the test is done without any warm up and involves reaching forward from a controlled position and taking a measurement at the furthest point reached by the finger tips. A warm up consisting of dynamic and static stretches will improve the results and indeed a study by María Angeles Díaz-Soler, Raquel Vaquero-Cristóbal, Luis Espejo-Antúnez, Pedro Ángel López-Miñarro in 2015 showed that a warm up improved scores by an an average of 2.1 cm – 2.6 cm immediately after the warm up and at 5 minute and 10 minute points after the warm up. Their sample group was 47 students. 

Method used this week in Pilates

The class was planned to stretch the muscles and release the fascia of the superficial back line (or anatomy train) ( Thomas W Myers – Anatomy Trains 2014) 

We used myofacial release techniques as well as targeted yoga stretches and dynamic Pilates stretches to focus on the musculature and fascia of the superficial back line known sometimes as the “posterior train”. This fascial “train”  runs from the root of the toes along the sole of the foot, up the back of the leg and buttock crossing over at the low back before continuing up the length of the back to the neck, back of the skull and eventually finishing at the forehead. Where muscles were found to be particularly tight we used a developmental stretch technique known as PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) to trick the central nervous system into releasing the muscle fibres just that little bit more.

Ok so that’s the technical stuff done. 

Participants were pleased, as was I, to find that at the end of all this targeted work they were able to reach so much farther than at the start of class. The average improvement was 14.3cm which is an amazing 11.8cm more than that achieved in the 2015 study (referenced above) where students did a more general style warm up with static and dynamic stretches.  

Imagine what can be achieved with regular targeted stretching and myofascial release! 

If you can’t touch your toes anymore and your joints and muscles feel stiffer – whether due to a heavy sports schedule or just plain old simple aging then maybe it’s time to join us in a Pilates or Yoga class. 

Classes run in a beautiful light airy studio with vaulted ceiling and have a maximum of 6 participants. All equipment is provided and with low numbers you are ensured lots of individual attention to help your technique and posture during exercises. 

Get in touch and book your space today. Classes start w/c 12th Aug and are filling up quickly.  marciefitness.com, [email protected]

Mondays 7pm yoga

Tuesdays 6pm Pilates 

Weds 6:30 yoga

Thurs 6:30 Pilates